The Cheechako Speaks

Cheechako is a Chinook Jargon word used mainly in Alaska.  It means “newcomer,” “tenderfoot,” or “greenhorn.”  I learned this word years ago from some kid magazine (Highlights for Children or Cricket or Cobblestone or some such — I had subscriptions to them all). Aren’t you impressed that I still remember it? 😉  Since moving here in July, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to apply it to myself as I’ve come to realize how very different life is in the Last Frontier and how much I don’t know.

It’s not that I expected everything to be perfectly smooth in the transition, but I did think it might be a little easier than it has been. Because it’s not just the people that are different, nor the physical and spiritual climates, nor the terrain.  It’s all of those things and more.  It’s my own perspectives needing to shift.  It’s letting go of things, even when I consider them important.  It’s trying to find my own little space in this vast, open land.

When we first talked about moving, there was such a sense of newness over it all.  Maybe a better way to say that would be that it felt like opening a new journal full of pristine pages and taking pen in hand.  And then sitting there, excited to write, but experiencing the mother of all writer’s blocks, well, that has been the reality.  Let me explain:

When Lechuga, our family friend who moved with us, and I rolled into town, we assumed she was going to get an apartment, and I’d stay with her until my boys got here a month later.  There was not a single apartment available, so we rented a cabin, brainstormed, Skyped with my hubby, and came to the conclusion that we should all get a house together until such a time as Lechuga meets her mountain man/love of her life and J and I buy property and build.  We found a house (the rental market is uber-competitive here), and the day we went to walk through it with the intent of signing a lease, the realtor got a call from the tenants saying they were going to stay for another month, which, according to the lease terms, is perfectly kosher.  That left us effectively homeless for that time because we only had enough money for the rent and security deposit.  But God, being in the details like he is, told us to pick a church, drive to it, and tell our story.  We did…and a perfectly lovely receptionist promptly offered the use of her spare room and her basement apartment for when the boys arrived.

So there we stayed for a month, and maybe I’ll write more about that in another post.  On the 23rd of August, we got into the house, and then a week after that, the money showed up to pay the movers and the movers showed up with our stuff. Well, most of it.  They lost two boxes and a deep freezer and damaged our TempurPedic mattress, a hutch drawer, two bookshelves, and a dresser.  To make a very long story short, after the Austin movers passed the buck to the parent company and the parent company passed the buck to AK Terminals, they’re not replacing the freezer because the movers neglected to list it on the inventory list, and they gave us 60 cents per pound of damaged items because we didn’t take out full insurance.  And instead of fighting, I have let it go.  Why?  Well, back to the writer’s block analogy.  I expected certain things to be written on all those beautiful, blank pages, and instead, I haven’t been able to make the story say what I wanted it to say.  And frankly, I’m tired.  I have felt like so many things from our “old” life grew tentacles and grabbed at us, trying to hold us back.  I want the newness.  And if that means old, damaged or lost stuff doesn’t get replaced, then I will wait for the new to come in its time.  If I carried ideas or assumptions from my life in Texas into this new place, and they don’t fit, then I have to set them down.  If the story takes a different direction from what I imagined, I need to write it as such.

I’m not sure if I’m making sense.  I mean, EVERYTHING is different.  EVERYTHING:

  1. People aren’t rude, exactly, but they don’t use the pleasantries I grew up with like “excuse me” or “thank you.” They don’t even really look you in the face; nor do they hold doors open or give you the right of way.  I have made a point to do these things for them, anyway.
  2. I did notice that their driving got less aggressive when I put Alaska plates on my car.  There’s a love/hate relationship with tourists up here.  Tourism dollars are a HUGE part of the economy, and Alaskans know it, but they also have definite ideas about when it’s time for the tourists to go home.
  3. Non-Texan friends have teased me all my life about how much Texans love Texas.  I just need to tell y’all that Alaska’s pride puts Texas to shame.  I have never seen so many businesses with the state name as a part of the business name as up here.  EVERYTHING is “Alaska This or That.”  People have Alaska decals on their cars.  They wear all manner of Alaska-themed t-shirts and hoodies.  And Alaskans love to make fun of Texans, too, which was all the more reason to get those Texas plates off my car.
  4. Even the way I go shopping is different.  Pretty much everything my family uses is available up here.  It’s just not ALWAYS available.  You buy it when you see it on the shelf because it may not be there tomorrow.  This goes for groceries, clothing, toys, household goods, and all.
  5. 70 degrees here is WARM.  Even 50 degrees is warm when the sun is out.  And it’s not from the humidity because it’s super-dry.  I can’t figure it out, but, as a dear friend said, I have found my people.  Shorts and flip-flops and a sweatshirt?  Yes, please.  It’s almost the uniform here, at least for now.  I just need a pair of Bogs, and I will be indistinguishable from the “real” Alaskans.
  6. There’s a lot less happening spiritually here than in Austin.  I expected this, but it’s been interesting trying to acclimate.  That said, we know that’s part of why we were sent here.  My own relationship with God and the way I hear him has certainly been stretched.  This is, at times, painful, but it is always good.
  7. I have been introduced to the wonders of the HRV, or heat recovery ventilator, system.  I’m still not totally sure how to use it, though, like do I leave it on with the heater, or when it rains, or just all the time?  Someone clue me in!
  8. Speaking of rain, August-September is the rainy season here, if, by “rain,” you mean “kinda misty with a few big raindrops every day, several times a day.”  The Alaskan idea of a hard rain is one that you can hear hitting your roof.  As someone who adores Texas thunderstorms, I can only shake my head and laugh a little. 🙂

Last night, I wanted to go watch the northern lights.  But as I drove up into the mountains, I became less and less sure of myself.  It was pitch black, I was alone at 3900′ elevation, had no cell service, no gun, no bear spray. The thought of car trouble or meeting some maniac – animal or human – was enough that I turned around and drove home, frustrated with the realization of how unequipped I was to take care of myself in this great land. I have so much to learn, and very little of my Texas upbringing applies. Even so, I have awakened every morning with a profound sense of gratefulness that I get to live here.  I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I am home.


Walking on Water…Sorta


Life as I know it has been HECTIC recently, so this past weekend, I took myself down to the Gulf Coast for a bit of “degaussing.”  Having grown up in that area, it’s always been a happy place/de-stressing place/thinking place for me, and this time was no different.  I took my journal with me, like always, and sought out the least-populated stretches of sand, like always, so I could meander and process.  (Hi, my name is Pellucere, and I like long walks on the beach…)

Eventually, I came to the Quintana fishing jetty, and it hit me suddenly that I had never once walked its entire, 3/5-mile-plus length.  I had a strong compulsion to do so, which was quickly countered by a mental litany of all sorts of reasons why I shouldn’t (you’ll get to the end and be swamped by the breaking waves and swept away into the muddy, brown Gulf.  You’ll drop your phone in the water while trying to take pictures.  It’s a pain to get saltwater off your sunglasses. Your mp3 player will get soaked.  You’ll lose your car keys.  NO ONE ELSE IS DOING IT!)

I am not generally a fearful person, and frankly, all these thoughts ticked me off.  I mean, really.  You know how sometimes you hear stuff in your head that you just KNOW isn’t you?  It struck me as an opportune time to take all those vain imaginations captive, and so I did.  Even so, as I began to walk out past the few fishermen perched on the first third of the jetty, I found myself stopped a few times, standing and watching the waves crash over its end.  But as I kept going, I realized that the breakers were landing directly in front of me or directly behind me.  Not once did I get more than wet feet.

I heard the Lord speak to me as I walked.  He said, “I will keep you safe.  The spray is all that will hit you, and it won’t bother you at all.  In fact, you will be refreshed.  You will thrive in it.”  I felt like He meant this for my life in general, and the jetty walk was really just an illustration, an exercise in choosing to trust Him, rather than let irrational fears rule me.  And I had to laugh when I finally reached the end — there was a large, green sign declaring this to be Jetty #7.  Green represents new life, and 7 is the number of completion.  I felt like I’d completed one phase or level and been promoted to a new one.

So many people I know are in a season of learning what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.  Where we thought we had an understanding of this before, there’s a new intensity to the lesson that makes me sure we’re being prepared for things we can’t even imagine.  If you find yourself in this season, blind and unable to hear, full of uncertainty and strange fears, maybe rethinking everything you ever thought you knew, rest assured that you absolutely are not alone.  Take comfort in the fact that the Lord believes in YOU enough to stretch you a little further, teach you a little more.  Be proud that He thinks you capable of the hard assignments.  Think of it as an honors class in more ways than one. 🙂

Can’t wait to see where I walk next!


Do Not Go Gentle Into That Dämmerschlaf

You know, when you ask the Lord what he wants to talk about, you never really know exactly what he’s going to say…this morning, for example, he brought up twilight sleep.  He asked me to go read about it and then get back to him, so, coffee mug in hand, I read. Here is what I learned:

In the early 20th century, Carl Gauss developed a method called Dämmerschlaf, or “twilight sleep,” for laboring mothers .  Moms-to-be were drugged into a semi-narcotic but conscious state, the idea being that they would have no post-delivery memory of labor pain.  It was heralded as a “new era” for women, but the side effects left something to be desired.

For one thing, twilight sleep removed the woman from the experience of childbirth.  True, she had no memory of the pain, but she also couldn’t actively participate in, or remember, the delivery itself.  One Nebraskan woman is on record as saying, “The next thing I knew I was awake […] and then I thought to myself, ‘I wonder how long before I shall begin to have the baby,’ and while I was still wondering a nurse came in with a pillow, and on the pillow was a baby, and they said I had had it—perhaps I had—but I certainly can never prove it in a courtroom.”

In some cases, this memory deficit affected the normal mother-infant bonding process, leading to ongoing issues.  In addition, the drugs used (a cocktail of morphine and scopolamine) affected the infants’ central nervous systems, which resulted in lethargic babies with poor breathing capacity.  All in all, not a great way to start out…

Okay, I’m back,” said I.  “What are you wanting me to see?

God: Talk to me about your own experience giving birth to M.

Me: Okaaaay.  I went totally natural, had a waterbirth.  I felt like a mama cat who just wanted to be left alone and let the process happen.  I trusted that my body would do what it needed to.  I was adamant about not having an epidural or meds because I wanted to experience the process from start to finish, and because I knew it would be healthier for me and the baby. 

God: What else?

Me: It hurt.  It was a lot of work.  I thought I might die a few times.  Hubby had to keep reminding me to breathe. 

God: But you were fully present in the moment, yes?  You remember when they laid your baby on your chest and you got to see him the first time?

Me:  Yes, I remember clearly.  I was astounded at how beautiful he was.

God:  Okay, so, switching gears for a minute.  You’re not really one for the journey, are you?

Me:  Ummm…I like road trips a lot.  When I get to plan them.

God:  Right, when you’re in charge.  But you aren’t too fond of not knowing what’s going to happen next, are you?  You’ve been learning this about yourself recently.

Me:  Sigh.

God: So let me talk to you about birthing a dream.

Me (starting to see where this was going): Okay.

God: What if you had been in twilight sleep while in labor with your son?  You wouldn’t have memories of pain, but you wouldn’t have been able to be a part of the process.  But since you were awake and aware, you got to experience it all.  And you knew him the second you saw him. Now, just like your midwife knew the natural progression of birth, I know the process for birthing a dream.  I don’t want you in twilight sleep as this thing unfolds.  I want you to be fully present. I need you to trust me, trust that I’m monitoring your vital signs, trust that I know when to tell you to relax and when to push.  I promise you that there’s a connection between the memories of the pain and the value of the dream when it comes true.  And also?  Dreams are healthier, fuller, when we co-labor.

Me:  Okay, so all this recent frustration and not knowing what in the world is going on…what’s all that about?

God:  That’s because you should be relaxing, and instead, you’re trying to push.  Timing is everything, daughter o’ mine.  Let me do my part so you can do yours. I’ll let you know when to push.

God is right, of course.  Right now is a time that I am fully aware of a dream on the horizon, and I am completely unable to MAKE it happen sooner. This has caused me no shortage of grief as I learn to trust his process, trust him even more.  I’ve spent a lot of time yelling and pushing, when what I needed to be doing was saving my strength for when it’s time.  And there are always, ALWAYS clear signs of when it’s time…which I would miss if I were in Dämmerschlaf.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go rest.



The Summer of “Whaaaaat???”

So…it’s the 15th of July, and my summer has not been even remotely what I thought it would.  What it HAS been is a series of lessons in adjusting my thinking and my response time.  Timing is everything, you know…

First, I had planned on taking the summer off from school (1st break in 3 years) and starting to write my book.  Then I found out that the 4 classes I needed in order to graduate in December were all being offered on the same days in the same 3 time slots, which meant that if I took the summer off, I’d have to go one semester longer for a single class.  Uh, no thanks.  So I signed up for 2 classes this summer – one of which meets at 8 in the morning on SATURDAY, 50 miles from my house.  Yay!

Second, God began to challenge me to rethink everything I ever thought I knew, which I’ve identified as the running theme to my summer.  Through a series of very cool events which I’ll probably document in another blog entry at some point, He showed up in my house in a major way and basically left the door open.  I’m not kidding – people walk into my living room and get overwhelmed by the presence of God.  I’m – we’re – learning how to steward that well, and it’s the reason for all my “best-laid plans” going wonky.

Third, the plans I had to keep my son occupied fell through.  The thought here was to give him something to do for a few hours while I wrote my book…and then while I did my summer schoolwork, too…negatory, Ghostrider.  Instead of him participating in a summer homeschool program my friend started, he’s been home with me all this time.  I was pretty concerned about this arrangement at the beginning (gonna be reeeeeally transparent here) for several reasons.  One, I am definitely not the stay-at-home mom type.  I realize many women are, and God bless ’em, but the idea of coming up with fun little activities we could do together (sock puppets!  dance party!  locking myself in the closet!) sets my teeth on edge.  Two, my son and I are so, so much alike that I thought we’d drive each other up the walnuts, as he says.  Three, my tolerance for Star Wars is exactly 1/276,0000th of my child’s enthusiasm for it.  But what God told me changed my perspective a good deal (well, that, and mandating “No Star Wars Days” from time to time).  He told me that the summer was all about training up my child in the way HE should go – because M and I share very similar giftings, the Lord wanted him to spend a lot of time with me, just watching me live day to day interacting with people and with Him.  And curiously, our being so alike has actually been beneficial.  It turns out my kid wants his alone time just as much as I want mine, and he understands completely when I need to disengage for a few minutes.  He also still likes to take naps or lie quietly reading or drawing for hours at a time, so I’ve not felt tons of pressure to come up with things to do.  We’ve grown closer, and we’ve discussed topics ranging from the Dark Ages vs the Renaissance to Democrats and Republicans to why different denominations believe different things about the same God.  All topics brought up by the 7 year-old, I might add.  It’s kept me on my toes.

Fourth, we were given a word that now was the time to make some decisions.  Well, let me tell you, I’ve had a whole list of topics that I knew were going to need some attention, but I didn’t know immediacy, priority, etc.  And of all the ones to start with, I’d have never picked the one that God did…but isn’t that usually the case?  So the latest is that we’ve been feeling like M wouldn’t continue at the private school he’s gone to for the last 2 years for much longer.  We did think he’d go at least one more year.  Today confirmed otherwise.  We – J, M and I all – have clear direction that he is going to the public elementary school in our neighborhood for 2nd grade.  And I have this strong sense (which has been confirmed by a trusted friend) that all the other decisions will fall into place, contingent on this one.  My friend said she saw the Lord placing a bunch of dominoes very precisely, and when He was through, I got to flick the first one down, which set off the chain reaction perfectly.  I don’t think He could have gotten much clearer. 🙂

Fifth, one of the very biggest things that has happened this summer came from out of the blue.  I started having all these people speak words of creativity over me, again and again and again.  These were people who know me as very logical, precise, and organized.  What none of them know is that early in my life, I painted and drew and wrote constantly and never went anywhere without my beloved Canon A1.  But some years ago, I set all that down.  Life required too much logic and precision just to get by, and I guess I got used to moving within those parameters.  The creativity got stuffed in a dark closet somewhere.  But then a couple of weeks ago I began to feel that there’s a series of paintings the Lord wants me to do…and I kind of freaked out.  I really don’t move in a lot of fear or intimidation as a rule in my daily life, but in this area, I was definitely not my normal, confident self.  All I could think was, “What if it’s no good?  What if I can’t get it out of my head and onto the canvas?  What if I’m fooling myself and I really suck at this stuff?”  Ad nauseam.  And that in itself was completely annoying because I KNOW better than that, but I was still thinking that way and couldn’t seem to help it.  So I made myself accountable to an intercessor group I’m part of…and the next thing I knew, they were all tossing money at me to sow into this series of paintings and my giftings.  The gesture blew me away, and I figured that the 30 or 40 dollars would buy a couple of canvases and maybe a few brushes.  Except that the 30 or 40 dollars ended up being $235.26, and I was promised a French easel as well.  HOLY TOLEDO COW MOLEY FRIJOLE!  I joked that I guessed God was serious about this, and then I went shopping!  And do you know that all of what I bought cost 47 cents less than what was given to me – and I got every single thing I need to get started???

So now I’m at a place where I’m just watching to see where the dominoes fall.  We’ve got one decision crossed off the list, and I have no idea which one will be addressed next, but I know it’ll be ordered of the Lord.  I’m good with that!  And I’m not making ANY more plans this summer (did I mention I was hoping to travel before school started back up?  Sigh…).  So if you happen to call to see if I want to go do something, you might have to be happy with a “maybe” for your answer. 🙂

How’s your summer going?